Statement of J.C. Walkinshaw

At the time of the flood I was employed at East Conemaugh, in the capacity of Yard Master. I have been there since 1866.

On the night of the 30th, we had a very heavy rain-fall [sic] all night. I went on duty at six o'clock on Friday morning, and by tht [sic] that time, the river had risen, I should judge about three feet. It ceased raining then until about 7 o'clock; then it commenced again, and rained all forenoon. The river commenced to rise and continued to rise until about 12 o'clock. It was at that time higher than I ever saw it before. I should judge there was about eight feet of a rise. It was still confined to its banks. Along about 11 o'clock, the tracks just west of our tower commenced to wash away. In the meantime, No. 8's (Day Expresses) came in there, and we received orders to put them on sidings for orders. We also backed No. 12 (Mail Train) which came in first, about 8.335 (?) [sic] on siding, and it remained there. Chicago Limited (No. 2) came along east, and they got orders to go ahead; bi believe they went as far as South Fork. We got orders to hold the Day Express at Conemaugh, to side track them for orders, and not to aloow [sic] them to pass east of there. The orders came from Pittsburgh. We backed No. 8 n what we call No. 1 north siding (that is, we number the siding north) and we put the second section of Day Express on No. 2 North siding. They remained there until something after 1 o'clock. No. 1 track had washed away for I suppose, one hundred feet (that was the track next to the river) and just shortly after, No. 8 main track washed away, and No. 3 (just about opposite where those passenger trains were standing) along somewhere between one & two o'clock. The first track commenced to wash away between 11 and 12 o'clock; the second track washed away about a half hour afterwards, tht [sic] is, so that we couldn't use if, and the third track washed awy [sic] away about one o'clock or shortly after, and then about two o'clock, I moved the trains up into what we call the east yard. The first section of No. 8 we pulled up on No. 3 track, and the second section on No. 4. My object in pulling them up there was to get them away from the river. There is a short curve in the river there, and by pulling them up 150 yards, it took them away from the river, and put them on the outside tracks next to the street. Mail train stood opposite the conltipple [sic] on No. 2 track east of the office, and remained there.

Q. How far were these trains from the river, or how near was the water to them, after being moved up?
A. Opposite from where they stood, the river, I guess, at the nearest point from the rear end of second No. 8 was no more than 75 yards off, & No. 12, which stood on No. 1 track and stood up further, I suppose where it stood, was 100 yards from the river. The river had not yet broken it sbanks, [sic] and after moving the trains up there, some parties, I don't know who they were, came up the track, and told me thar [sic] what we call Cambria Ore siding, (it was a siding we placed on for Cambria) that that track was washed away, and there was danger of the cars going in the river. I went down to see if I could move those that were on that siding out of the way, but I found the track w as washed away in front of them, and I couldn't get an engine in to move them. I started back to Conemaugh telegraph office (it was something after 3 o'clock) and on the way up, Mr. Trump's train, special out of Pittsburgh, came up No. 4 main track. I was near about where the washout of 1, 2 & 3 tracks was, and I signaled them to stop, and told them that I didn't think it was safe to go any further. The train went back and brought it up on No. 1 north siding.

Q. I hand you a sketch marked "A". Please look at it, and state whether the position of the first and second Day Expresses is correctly marked there in red, on the tracks where you placed them.
A. Yes, sir, that was the last position I place them in.

Q. They were close to the station house, were they?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Now, where was the Mail Train?
A. The Mail Train stood on No. 1 track as shown on this diagram.

Q. Near the round house?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. State whether the tracks 1, 2, & 3 were washed out, as shown on sketch in pencil.
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What was the distance in length that those tracks were washed out?
A. Well, the first track was about 100 feet, and No. 2 track was I suppose, about 60 feet, and the other track, that is, No. 3, was about forty feet.

Q. What time of day was it that the third track was washed out?
A. Somewhere between 1% [sic] 2 o'clock, or about 2 o'clock, as near as I can remember.

Q. What time did you move the first and second Day Expresses up to the places represented on this diagram?
A. Between 1 & 2 o'clock; can't just say the exact time.

Q. How far east were they of where the third track was washed out?
A. They were east about 150 yards.

Q. About 150 yards from where the danger was?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And how far were they away from the river at that time?
A. Well, they were about 75 yards.

Q. Had the river broken over at all on the first track, and immediately below where the Mail Train was standing?
A. No, sir, it hadn't got there.

Q. I wish you would state whether after you placed the train there, they were in the safest places you could get them under the circumstances.
A. Yes, sir, they were in the safest places I could get.

Q. Did you believe from your knowledge of the river, and from what you saw of the flood, that the passengers were sage there?
A. Yes, sir, I did; as an evidence of that, I was about there myself all the time.

Q. You staid [sic] there, did you?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Had you any reason to apprehend that there would be a rush of water?
A. No, sir, I did not.

Q. You did the very best you could under the circumstances?
A. Yes, sir, the best I possibly could.

Q. How long was it from the time you got those trains in that place of safety until the rush of water came?
A. Well, it was something over two hours, or about two hours.

Q. Had it ceased raining in that time, on the afternoon on Friday (.)
A. Well, just by spells.

Q. Had the river ceased to fall?
A. No, sir, the river was at a stand still.

Q. From two to three o'clock, the river was on a stand still?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. You were watching it, you were sure of that were you?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Where there other persons watching it?
A. I couldn't say whether there were other persons watching it or not.

Q. Were any of the citizens around there watching it?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Well, who were they?
A. I don't just remember who.

Q. Can't you think of anybody?
A. There was a Mr. Harvey.

Q. What does he do?
A. He was a druggist at Conemaugh.

Q. At what point, as represented on the draft, were you?
A. At a point near about where No. 8's were first backed in, about half-way between the station and those washouts.

Q. Did you have any conversation with Mr. Harvey on the subject?
A. No, sir, I did not; I just saw him there.

Q. Except for this rush of water by the breaking of the dam, would those trains have been in a place of safety?
A. Yes, sir, they would have been perfectly safe.

Q. Well, now, please state what took place after this.
A. well, as near as I can tell, I came up with Mr. Trump; after we had brought his special up, we took it around on No. 1ssidri [sic] in front of the tower.

Q. Where was that with reference to the Day Expresses?
A. It was near about opposite, or a little west of the Day Expresses.
I went into the office, and there was a message handed to me by my son; it was received by the operator there, and sent down to me ---

Q. Who was the message sent by?
A. I don't know; I didn't look at the signature.

Q. What was the purport [sic] of the message, and where did it come from?
A. I didn't look where it was from; I understood the operator to say it was from "AO" tower. "AO" tower is about a mile and three quarters, I judge, east of Conemaugh. I don't know whether it came from Mineral Point or "AO" tower. That message that Conemaugh Lake had filled up, and was running over, and was liable to break at any moment.

Q. What time did you get that message?
A. That message was handed to me, as near as I can remember, between 3.30 and 3.35 in the afternoon. I handed the message to Mr. Trump, and while he was looking at it, the operator called down from the tower where we were standing, and told me that the tracks east of the big cut were washed out. The big cut is two miles east of Conemaugh. I asked Mr. Trump how far he was going east, and mentioned to him about these tracks being washed out east of the deep cut. He remarked that they would go on east as far as they could, and see what damage was done. His train started away, and Local Freight came up just after his train left. I went out and put that train on one of the sidings out of the way, and went back into the office and looked up at the clock, and it was then fifteen minutes to four o'clock. I sat down and wasn't in the chair more than a minute until I heard a whistle blow. (One of our work trains had been ordered to Wilmore, but they got up as far as the deep cut, or this washout, and they couldn't get any further, and they were turned back, and there was a slide on No. 4 and No. 3 tracks about five or six hundred yards east of Conemaugh, and they stopped there on their way back to clean it off). That train was standing there, and while I was sitting there in the chair, I had just sat down about a minute, I heard a whistle blow, and I knew it was the engine that was up there. She gave four or five long blasts. That meant to me that there was danger. I jumped off of my chair, and as soon as I heardd [sic] the second blast, I ran out and hollowed [sic] for every person to go away off the road and get on high ground, and I started up the track. Just as I left the office, I saw the rear end of this work train backing around the curve. I started up toward the train, and the minute I saw the train stop, I saw the engineer jump off and run for the hill. Just at that minute, I saw a large wave come around the hill. When I saw it, it was a body of water in a swell, apparently to me about four feet higher than the track where I was standing. As soon as I saw it come every person was making for the hill, and the distance I had to go, I started to save myself, and I saved myself, but I was in very close quarters when I got out.

Q. Where were the conductors of these two passenger trains for an hour before this burst of water came down?
A. I couldn't say. Theyhad [sic] been in and out of the office all day long. I had left the office, you see, and went down to Woodvale, and was coming up with Mr. Trump's train.

Q. All the information you got then from the message was the fact that the water was running over the South Fork dam, and that there was danger of it breaking?
A. That was all.

Q. It didn't tell you whether any portion of the dam had given way, nor how much water was running over the dam?
A. No, sir.

Q. Could you have done anything more than you had done for the safety of those trains after you got that message?
A. No, sir; it wasn't possible for us to do more than we did do.

Q. So that the trains were in the very safest place to escape that disaster, were they?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Now, from the time you got that message until you saw this body of water coming, how long was it?
A. Well, it wasn't over 15 minutes.

Q. You didn't put these trains then, the Mail Train and the other trains, where you did, because of any fear of the South Fork dam breaking?
A. No, sir, I put them there for the purpose of getting them away from the river and the washout.

Q. You had no reason to believe at the time you put those trains there that there was any danger of the dam giving way?
A. No, sir.

Q. Was there any way of your moving those trains from the time you got that dispatch, east or west to a place of safety?
A. No, sir, there was a washout east and west of where they were.

Q. At an ordinary stage of water in the Conemaugh, how high are the tracks where the two Day Expresses were and the Mail Train above the Conemaugh river?
A. I suppose there would be five or six feet, probably more.

Q. Now, when you got that message about the water running over the South Fork dam, had the water gotten outside of the river bank at all up opposite where these trains were staniding [sic] ?
A. No, sir.

Q. How far was it below the level of where these trains stood?
A. Three or four feet below the level.

Q. Where is that dispatch you say your son gave you?
A. After I read it, I laid it down on the desk in the office, (the Yard Master's Office) and everything was washed away. That message was swept away with the office.

Q. You don't know where the message your son gave you came from?
A. No, sir, I couldn't say whether it came from Mineral Point or "AO" tower, but it came from one of those two places.

Q. Now, just go on and state, after you were compelled to fly, what did this rush of water do to those trains?
A. Well, that rush of water just swept all the Company's building s [sic] away and it washed No. 12 over on No.3 track ---

Q. Did it lift the train up bodily?
A. No, sir, it just shifted it right across; didn't lift it up. The trucks were still under the cars.

Q. It didn't turn the train over?
A. No, sir. The track washed away under the baggage car and engin [sic] and the engine just dropped down and staid [sic] in that position.

Q. Were there any people in the Mail Train?
A. No, sir, the people were all out of the train, and were up in the town.

Q. Now, the other trains, what happened to them?
A. Well, there was a coal tipple running across the four tracks just east of the two Day Expresses, and when the flood struck them, the coal tipple dropped down in front on No. 8's, and there were some coal dumps standing on the platform, and some cars on the siding, which washed down right against the engines of no. 8s and made a kind of a swirm [sic] around there, which protrcted [sic] them from being washed away, excepting the baggage car and second coach of first No. 8. The tracks were washed out, and the engine of first No. 8 turned over on its side. The front end of the second passenger coach was undermined and dropped down, the couplers came uncoupled, the car swung around, broke loose, and was carried away.

Q. In which car or train was it that the people were who were drowned?
A. I couldn't say.

Q. Were those two trains swept off the tracks where you put them?
A. No, sir, nothing butt [sic] the two cars.

Q. Well, if persons had remained in there, would they have been drowned?
A. If they had remained in any of these cars excepting the front coach of second No. 8, they would have ben all right. In any of the others, they would have been saved.

Q. Where those two trains stood, the Day Expresses, was there a street along the foot of the slope?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What was the name of the street?
A. Railroad street.

Q. And how high were they above that street when they were in the cafe [sic] there, or how high were those cars above the level of the street?
A. Well, I don't know; I suppose they were five or six feet higher than the street. Then there was a little water way running down between the street and the railroad; I suppose it was two of three, probably four feet wide.

Q. How much of the embankment was torn away by the big wave?
A. It was all washed away, but a small space right where those trains stood.

Q. Where the two Day Expresses stood?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. The embankment wasn't washed away where they stood, wasn't it?
A. No, sir.

Q. And all east and west of that was washed away?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Well, Mr. Walkinshaw, how long did it take for that immense column or volume of water, or wave, to pass this place where you were?
A. Well, I suppose it took a n [sic] hour.

Q. Did it maintain pretty much the same height, or did it decrease or become less?
A. Well, it became less.

Q. How fare is it from Conemaugh to where the dam was?
A. Somewhere about 9 or 10 miles. I don't know the exact distance it is from the railroad as I never was there.

Q. During the number of years you were at Conemaugh, Mr. Walkinshaw, has there been on an average a flood once a year or more.
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Which was the largest flood you recollect prior to this one?
A. Well, I couldn't say exactly; it was a good while ago. I suppose it has been some ten of twelve years.

Q. About how high was the river then?
A. It wasn't as high then by two feet as it was this time.

Q. This is the greatest flood you ever knew there?
A. Yes, sir, and I have been there since 1866. There was only one time that there was ever a flood anywhere near equal to it, and that was, I suppose, ten or twleve [sic] years ago. there was a bridge running across right below the round house at Conemaugh, and a track ran down there that ra [sic] to the old Portage Road, and the water was within a couple feet of the bridge, and we ran cars out on there to save it. That was the only time that I ever knew the river to be high enough that it was necessary to place anything on that bridge to keep it from going away.

Last updated: February 14, 2017

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